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British Army

Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 10 April 1951

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Prisoners Of War, Korea

29.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that Mrs. Taylor, 45, Paterson Street, Glasgow, C.5, had a letter from his Department which she had sent to her son in Korea returned marked, "deceased"; and why this was done, in view of the fact that nothing has been heard of Private Taylor since 9th September last despite repeated inquiries by the hon. Member for Trades-ton.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the letter sent to him by my hon. Friend on 16th February.

In view of the fact that the letter was quite unsatisfactory and that since the Question was tabled by me Mrs. Taylor has received word that she can get information about her son by writing to the China Peace Council, Peking, China, if this source of information is available, what attempt has my right hon. Friend made to get in touch with this source through our diplomatic representative? If he has made no attempt, why is he not doing so?

We very much hope that my hon. Friend's information is correct and that this soldier is a prisoner and not, as was erroneously thought, deceased. As to getting in touch with prisoners of war in North Korea, I have already answered Questions on that subject and full information as to numbers has been given. When I say full information, I mean all the information we have.

Further to that reply, is my right hon. Friend aware that, unofficially, lists of missing soldiers are being published in this country?

38.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will now make an official statement on the whereabouts of British Service men, formerly reported missing in Korea and subsequently reported to be prisoners of war.

I regret that there is still no official news regarding the whereabouts of British Service men believed to be prisoners of war in Korea.

Has my right hon. Friend any news yet from the Red Cross? Are they still trying to establish contact?

Yes, attempts are being made, and as is shown in "The Times" this morning, Dr. Ruegger, the President of the International Red Cross, has just returned from Peking, and he states that he found the Chinese Red Cross authorities "very understanding."

Troops, Korea

30 and 31.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) what arrangements exist for leave in Japan for British Commonwealth officers and other ranks serving in Korea;

(2) to what extent British officers on leave from Korea are allowed to use the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces Leave Hotel at Ito, Japan.

To the extent of the available transport, front line officers and other ranks of the British Commonwealth Forces in Korea are being given five clear days' leave respectively in a hotel and a hostel in Tokyo, where amenities equivalent to those of a first-class hotel are provided. The leave hostel at Ito is not available for officers from Korea as it is fully occupied with the normal leave of the occupation personnel for whom it was established. The establishment of a much larger scheme to provide for all British Commonwealth forces in Japan as well as in Korea is being planned.

Does that answer mean that exactly the same facilities are available for troops who have been fighting in battle as for those engaged in peaceful occupation in Japan? Do those from Korea get fully equivalent facilities for leave as occupation forces in Japan?

Yes, Sir, equivalent, but not the same. They do not go to Ito but they go to these hostels, which I am assured are first-class accommodation.

37.

asked the Secretary of State for War if, in his communication to the Commander of the British Forces in Korea on the subject of a local overseas allowance, he made specific reference to the fact that the prices of some Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes' goods are related to their prices in Hong Kong; and what reasons were advanced by the Commander for his opinion that there was no case for a local overseas allowance.

43.

asked the Secretary of State for War what communications he has had with the Commander of British troops in Korea about local overseas allowances in Korea; what increases in the allowances have been made; and from what date.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), to my reply on 3rd April. N.A.A.F.I. prices were specifically taken into consideration by the Commander of the British Commonwealth troops in Korea in arriving at the opinion that the overall cost of living for troops in Korea is definitely not higher than that in the United Kingdom, and that there is, therefore, no case for a local overseas allowance.

Is the right hon. Gentleman quite satisfied that in getting the advice of the Commander of the British troops in Korea he did not so phrase his questionnaire letter that the Commander's advice was open to misunderstanding, because from his own statement N.A.A.F.I. prices are clearly higher than those in other parts of the world?

No, Sir. I should have thought that we rather went the other way in soliciting from the Commander an application, if he could make any case, for a local overseas allowance. We really invited him to make such a case. I have no doubt that he would have done that if he could have possibly done so.

Is the Minister aware that one of the reasons advanced for the high prices of N.A.A.F.I. goods in Korea is that they are based on Hong Kong prices and that, if the right hon. Gentleman intends to deal with the matter on a square basis, there are two alternatives—to reduce N.A.A.F.I. prices or put the troops on the Hong Kong allowance? As neither has been done, it seems to the House very anomalous that the hardship should be borne by the troops.

N.A.A.F.I. prices in Hong Kong are only one, and a comparatively small, element in the general cost of living. I should like to see made out a case which we could sustain to the Treasury for some allowance in Korea. It is disappointing, to say the least, that the Commander in the field cannot furnish us with such a case.

When my right hon. Friend says that the N.A.A.F.I. prices are only one, and a comparatively small, item in the general cost of living, can he say what else the troops in Korea can spend their money on?

39.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a full statement on the breakdown of the group system in providing officers and other ranks for units now in action in Korea; and what modifications he proposes to this system.

The speed with which it was necessary to despatch 27th Infantry Brigade to Korea made it necessary to attach officers and men from other battalions in Hong Kong, regardless of the group system. In order to provide the necessary reinforcements for Korea it has been necessary to draw on shadow groups, which are groups with a close territorial affinity to the groups directly concerned. Such arrangements, however, are an integral part of the group system and are designed to cater for just such a situation as that in Korea.

Is it not a fact that some units in Korea have had to draw reinforcements from as many as 10 or 12 or even more regiments. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman says about "shadow groups," how can he, in those circumstances, say that the group system is working?

I do not say that in the case of the troops drawn from Hong Kong, which I think is a special case, but in the reinforcements drawn from this country that procedure was envisaged under the group system.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make quite certain that this group arrangement will work under the stress of war? Will he see that there is no risk of a breakdown in regard to reinforcements occurring on the scale on which it occurred in the last war?

40.

asked the Secretary of State for War what report he has received from Korea regarding the fitness of reservists for the strenuous type of fighting they have to undertake; why infantry other ranks over 30 years of age were sent at a time when the numbers in the Army are large and few are committed on active service; and if he will now take steps to replace all infantrymen who by reason of their age are not suited to active service Korean infantry operations.

Reports from Korea indicate that reservists have stood up to the conditions as well as men of other categories. The suitability of infantry soldiers for active service is determined by their medical fitness rather than their age and many men over 30 years of age have given excellent service both in the 1939–45 war and in Korea. If any man serving in Korea is found unfit, on account of his age or for any other reason, he is brought before a medical board, down-graded as necessary and posted in accordance with his revised medical category.

Dependants Pensions (Claims)

32.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that there is some lack of knowledge as to the procedure of claiming war pensions when soldiers are killed during active service; and if he will take steps to ensure that when cases of this kind occur the dependants are advised by the authorities of the method of procedure for claiming the pension.

The widow of a soldier who dies while serving is sent a form of application for widow's pension, which has to be completed and sent to the Ministry of Pensions. Other dependants who were receiving allotments or other payments through Army channels are advised to apply to the Ministry of Pensions when they are notified of the impending cessation of these payments. No notification is made to dependants who are receiving no Army payments, but I think it is generally known that the Ministry of Pensions is the Department to which applications should be addressed.

In view of the state of mind in which a great many people are put when they receive just a form, would the Minister consider that some personal contact should be made, because there have been a great many cases in which the present method has not produced the desired result?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that only three or four Questions ago the Opposition were objecting to spending money on informing pensioners and others how to get information?

Soldier's Death, Austria

33.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement about the circumstances of the death of 14444957 Corporal Dennis Marsden, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who was found drowned at Klagenfurt, Austria, on 24th March.

I have called for a very full report on this matter and will write to my hon. Friend immediately it is received. Meanwhile, I should like to offer my deep sympathy to the soldier's relatives.

Is the Minister aware that this man was missing for six weeks without any information being given to the relatives at all, and that they were not consulted as to the manner or matter of his death; and is it not a fact that a great deal of gruesome detail was circulated in the Yorkshire Press at a time when the relatives were completely in ignorance of the details of the case? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to see that in future, in matters of tragedy such as this, his Department act with a little more humanity?

I think the overseas command concerned would say that it was as usual, the difficulty of being sure that any information was correct before they gave it, because this was a mysterious case of disappearance. I have written to them and taken up several matters with them on which there may have been some fault.

Married Quarters, Canal Zone

34.

asked the Secretary of State for War what new married quarters in the Canal Zone for officers and other ranks, respectively, were started in the year 1950–51; how many have been finished; and how many he plans to start in each of the next six-month periods.

During the financial year 1950–51 new married quarters in the Canal Zone were started for 54 officers and 125 other ranks and, with the exception of five officers' quarters, all of these were finished. In the next six months period it is planned to start quarters for 25 officers and 27 other ranks. Plans for the construction of further married quarters for 20 officers and 100 other ranks during this six months period and for 30 officers and 100 other ranks in the following six months period are under consideration.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect making a statement in this House on 16th May last year in which he said that 220 extra married quarters would be started during the last financial year? Is he satisfied that the short-fall of about 50 was really necessary? Will he give an undertaking that while the reported negotiations are going on in Egypt, he will ensure that proper accommodation arrangements continue to be made for British troops in the Canal Zone?

Oh, yes. Building is going on there and, as I have said in this answer, there is no question of interrupting it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman expect that these buildings are ever going to be occupied by the British, or are they being built for the Egyptian Army?

Is the cost of this accommodation being borne by the British Government or by the Egyptian Government? Am I not right in saying that under the original terms of the treaty the Egyptian Government were to provide alternative accommodation in the Canal Zone?

I think the accommodation is being built at the expense of the British Government. The other part of the hon. and gallant Member's question should be addressed to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

Can the right hon. Gentleman answer the question put to him, namely, do these plans for future building in the Canal Zone imply—as I hope they do—that British troops are to remain in Egypt?

Duty-Free Parcels

35.

asked the Secretary of State for War what representations he has had from overseas commands, where active operations are in progress, regarding the present system of duty-free con cessions on parcels sent by troops to their relatives and friends at home.

Except for a request for a special Christmas concession, no such representations have been received.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a widespread feeling amongst all ranks on active service that the present arrangements are ungenerous? Is there any reason why they should not be as generous as they were at the end of the war for British troops serving in Europe?

I imagine that the cost of such a concession in far distant stations would be very much greater.

Court-Martial (Rejected Petition)

36.

asked the Secretary of State for War why he has refused to give reasons for the rejection by the Army Council of the petition against his conviction by court-martial lodged by Mr. R. E. Sutherby, formerly an officer of the Indian Army; and whether he will now give such reasons.

My hon. Friend refused to comply with the hon. Member's request to give point by point the reasons for the rejection by the Army Council of this petition. The general reason why the petition failed is that it disclosed no legal grounds for interference with the conviction.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the old policy of not giving detailed reasons no longer applies since this House has disapproved of that policy by setting up court-martial appeal procedure where reasons will be given? Does he not think he should adopt that principle and give specific reasons?

I should not have thought that followed. After all, the setting up of an appeal court, which I welcome very much indeed, will not interfere at all with the right of petition.

Would my right hon. Friend explain what are the reasons of policy which make it undesirable for the reviewing officer to give his reasons for either rejecting or admitting a petition in circumstances in which a petition is the only available right of appeal, and where to give reasons would only be equivalent to a judgment admitting or rejecting an appeal in a court of criminal appeal?

That again is a different point. My hon. Friend has in mind confirmation. This is a question of petition at a much later date.

I had not only confirmation in mind. What I had in mind was that this right of petition acts as a very valuable substitute for the non-available right of appeal, and the reasons for accepting or rejecting it are in many cases equivalent to a judgment in a court of appeal. Therefore, what are the reasons of policy which make it undesirable to give them?

I should have thought that that applied much more to the question of confirmation, and would be met by the setting up of an appeal court rather than by a petition.

Private Fargie (Court-Martial)

42.

asked the Secretary of State for War upon what grounds the confirming authority withheld confirmation of the conviction by court-martial of Private Fargie; and in what respects the confirming authority disagreed with the summing-up of the trial Judge Advocate as to the duties and responsibilities of armed sentries.

Lieut.-General Sir Horace Robertson decided to refuse confirmation of the finding of manslaughter after receiving the advice of the Deputy Judge Advocate General, Far East. The opinion of the Deputy Judge Advocate General was that whereas the Judge Advocate at the trial correctly directed the court that a sentry is only entitled to fire upon a person in self defence or in defence of the property which it was his duty to guard, he failed to direct the court upon the legal implications which arise when a sentry fires over the head of a person who after being challenged three times fails to halt and runs away.

Artillery Practice Camp, Weybourne

44.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will reconsider the proposed extension to the Royal Artillery practice camp at Weybourne, Norfolk, and revert to the original scheme of development between the village and the railway station rather than along the coast, as requested by the Erpingham District Council.

This proposal is in the early stages of consideration in the War Department and before any decision is reached there will be consultation with the local planning authorities under the normal procedure.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while the council are not opposed to defence measures, they feel that the development could take place on the alternative site, and give the same efficiency, while at the same time preserving a very beautiful stretch of country?

I have given my hon. Friend an undertaking that consultation with the authorities will be undertaken.